Britten’s Peter Grimes

An opera sung in English at Vienna State Opera! Such is the international standing and acceptance of Benjamin Britten’s operas, Britten’s Peter Grimes, amongst others, is part of Vienna State Opera’s repertory, and how fitting to stage it 23rd November to commemorate the centenary of his birth (1913).
I can still remember Welsh National Opera’s classic 1990’s Peter Grimes (produced by Peter Stein) colourfully depicting a late 19th Century (1870s) English Suffolk fishing village. Stein decided a certain realism is necessary, starting with the costumes, even including three authentic boats on stage.
Christine Mielitz’s (21st Century) production has the court seated facing us. Grimes’ boy died at sea. Herbert Lippert’s Grimes at first seems too old; white-haired, receding, portly, in a grey jacket and waistcoat. ( He’s meant to marry Ellen.) The judge calls him ‘callous’, ‘brutal’- he’s told to get a fisherman big enough to stand up for himself.
But Grimes the outsider ‘sees and feels what others don’t see.’ He is a visionary, near to madness, who speaks poetically : ‘The dead are witnesses and fate is blind.’ Gottfried Pilz’s minimalist set is high-tech, defined by green neon strips, with a sphere, like a porthole, suspended.
But where’s the sense of the sea- the material inspiration for Britten’s fishing village? In the next scene a storm is breaking. Backstage there are lines of people who appear to be rowing; small boys playing (on deck?) with bars of soap; front stage four reading newspapers in armchairs. In the pub that evening, people coming out of the storm sing of ‘thieving waves which take us in our sleep’. But there’s no real sense of foreboding. ‘We’ve got a ‘prentice for you, Grimes, but there’s no room on the fully- loaded cart’ (a workhouse boy, this is the 19th century). Ellen, the schoolteacher, offers to mind the boy, soprano Gun-Brit Barkmin has beautiful articulation.
In a farcical sequence, the men hold up bright yellow chairs, as if to fend off ‘a high tide no breakwater can stand’ that’s coming to ‘eat the land’. Behind them others are holding suitcases (a sea wall, breakwater?). Grimes and Captain Balstrode (Iain Paterson) are pulling on a rope centre stage. Grimes complains of being offered apprentices ‘workhouse starved’.
Grimes has a vision of marrying Ellen, taking in the apprentice: he’ll show them by setting up shop. In his aria tenor Lippert sings of a harbour where there’ll be no quarrels. (Rather effectively, Grimes stands at the vortex of neon light strips.) Britten’s Sea Interlude is well played before the quarrel, an orgaistic scene, at the Boar, the pub dominated by gaming machines. ‘We live and let live and keep our hands to ourselves’ (pub conversation). Black lurex strips curtain off the backstage, like a bordello. Meanwhile Grimes sings of ‘breathing solemnity in that great night.’ So the general debauchery of ‘the Borough’ is contrasted to Grimes’ poetic ramblings: the Holy Fool. ‘He’s mad or drunk’: or the outbursts of a psychotic? Behind him they’re cavorting in bright red outfits, boogying as if at a revivalist meeting. Ridiculous.
If it fails to evoke the Suffolk fishing setting, what is Mielitz trying to do? A psychological concept, perhaps – a society as trial and jury, Grimes and outsiders the object of surveillance.
It gets worse. Act 2, Ellen is with Grimes’ new apprentice. There’s a gold covering to the stage (representing a beach), with a Church choir backstage. The boy, with a racket, is playing tennis ! ‘Man alone has a soul to save and goes to church on Sundays’, sings Ellen. So why before this Victorian Church is the boy playing sport? The boy reveals his bruises to Ellen- he’s all black under his shirt- which makes his tennis serves even more absurd. Grimes arrives. He’s seen a shoal, needs help. ‘He works for me: leave him alone, he’s mine.’
This Grimes, Lippert, is too introverted, hasn’t got that wild streak. The man Grimes is unable to control his temper. So impatient, lost in visions, he loses it with the boy. Lippert is too gentle to be credible as this unpredictable loose cannon. But it’s beautifully sung, with elegant diction. Grimes hits Ellen, knocks her to the ground (for reproaching him for ill-treating the boy.) ‘Grimes is at his exercise. You can see it from his eyes,’ (sing Chorus), a constant refrain, suggesting the manic.
‘Fishing’s a lonely experience’. Grimes is an outsider. He’s targeted. ‘When the Borough gossips, someone will suffer.’ The Borough keeps its standards up’. The Church worshippers are all in black, when summoned to Grimes’ hut, like a Salem witch hunt:’Now is gossip put on trial.’
Grimes orders the boy to ‘Go there! Now’s the chance: the whole sea’s boiling.’ Hearing the approaching neighbours, Grimes flings out the fishing gear, sends the boy down the cliff face to ‘find that shoal’: the boy slips to his death.
In a disjointed aria Grimes dreams he’s married Ellen, built himself a home: no more fears and no more storms. She ‘will be wrapped around in tenderness, like a purple haze.’Then a nightmare, haunted by visions of his previous apprentice, ‘Stop moaning boy, there’s no more water’. Fine singing from Lippert.
Act 3 concerns the disappearance of Grimes and his apprentice, the jumper Ellen knitted for him found washed up, the Mayor’s posse of the locals to arrest Grimes… But in this chaotic production, in the opening, the Mayor, is having fun with two women. The whole concept is like a Berg 1920s modernist opera- not one of Britten’s Romantic notion. The ‘Good night Dr.Crabbe’ sequence ‘Tonight’ is a dance sequence out of a (Sondheim?) musical.
However, Barkin in Ellen’s aria sings poignantly of how she was brooding on the fantasies of children; only by wishing can she bring some silk into their lives. Britten is pre-occupied with the transition from childhood to adulthood.
The Act 3 sets are metallic, black with gold, high modernism; the backdrop is a New York skyline. In Mielitz’s concept, there’s a Hollywood ball sequence- white deejays and gowns.Then the whole lot are brandishing shot guns-or what. Back in Britten’s opera, Peter Grimes is found by Ellen and Balstrode, hungry, wet and almost insane. Balstrode’s proposed way out is for Grimes to scuttle his boat and sink with it . Grimes’ last aria, his mind disintigrating, sings ‘Deep in calm water, you are near home…Old Joe’s gone fishing.’ He’s raving. Beautifully sung by Lippert, but there’s little menace, or sense of pathos.
Britten’s opera ends with dawn breaking; the Borough come to life to rumours of a boat sinking. The beginning of another day, the Borough is going about its business. The music, Britten’s prologue, is sublime, it should be profoundly moving.
Mielitz’s thoroughly modern design concept is an ego trip too far. Musically this production certainly passes muster, not an ideal cast, but uniformly well sung, Vienna State Opera orchestra perhaps over-driven by Graeme Jenkins, sounding brutally modernist at times.
Mielitz should be sent to the Suffolk coast, to board a fishing boat (if there are any) and preferably, apprenticed to a Mr. Grimes. The shame is that it’s a travesty: doesn’t do justice to Britten’s opera, a masterpiece. There is no sense of wonderment of nature, the power of the sea to drive a man out of his mind. PR. 23.11.2013
Photos: Iain Paterson (Captain Balstrode) and Herbert Lippert (Peter Grimes); Gun-Brit Barkmin (Ellen Orford) ; Herbert Lippert (Grimes)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper/ Michael Poehn

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly premiered in 1904, its appeal undiminished. Is it the the exoticism, the authentic detail stemming from Puccini’s interest in Japan: or the tragic love story inspiring Puccini’s ravishing music? Madama Butterfly is as relevant now as a parable of imperialism, Cio-Cio-San the victim of Lieutenant Pinkerton of the US Navy. (He rents a house, marries his temporary wife in Japan- against the advice of her maid, Japanese house owner, and US Consul.) The tragedy is Cio-Cio-San’s, who, in her innocent trust, sacrifices everything for Pinkerton, even converts to his religion.
It is surely a tale of sex-tourism , with the westerner – wishful thinking, sincere- exploiting the good faith of his hosts, with Cio-Cio-San duped into marrying him. Meanwwhile with the US Consul, Pinkerton drinks to America, his home ties and an American wife.
At Vienna State Opera, Pinkerton, sung by a very Italian looking Neil Shicoff, (youthfully black hair, moustachioed) boasts to Sharpless, the US Consul (Gabriel Bermudez): Everywhere in the world, the roaming Yankee gets his money’s worth. He, the American sailor, drops anchor until a storm ravages the ship. But this ‘easy-going greed’ saddens him. Puccini’s aria, infused with strains of the stars- and-stripes, is adequately sung by an unrecognisably off-form Shicoff, his tenor lustreless, his range lacking. When his bride to be, Cio-Cio-San , is ready ‘like a garland of flowers’, Pinkerton admits to Sharpless- ‘I don’t know if it is love or a passing fancy.’ Introducing the butterfly trope, Pinkerton sings ‘She is like a butterfly. He only has to catch her even if it breaks her wings’- an ominous statement of his power over her. (Shicoff, not inspiring, makes hard work of it.) When he raises a toast it’s to marriage to ‘a real American girl’.
For the wedding Cio-Cio-San appears in white silk heading the Geisha girls.(The gowns are authentic kimonos.) Ana Maria Martinez’s voice, a light soprano, endears her in its fragility, sings before she crosses the bridge she must turn back and look at the things dear to her. The bridge is also symbolic -apart from the customary marriage crossing to her husband- in cultural terms. Marrying Pinkerton, she’s ‘burning her bridges’, cutting off her family.
Cio-Cio-San, ‘Butterfly’, sings of how she had to make her life as a geisha, of hard times :’The storm breaks even the strongest pines.’ Her mother, a noble lady, is now poor. And it’s revealed Butterfly is only 15 -years- old (carrying other implications). The other girls sing, he (Pinkerton) is ‘as handsome as a dream: he’ll divorce her.’
Butterfly shows Pinkerton her make up box; something sacred, a present from the Mikado to her father; and the dolls, the souls of her ancestors. But -to underline her sacrifice, her alienation from her roots- sings how she went secretly to the Mission, to adapt to the new religion. ‘Her uncle (a Buddhist Priest) knows nothing: she will follow his (Pinkerton’s) God. ‘For you I am prepared to forget my own religion, my nearest and dearest.’
Yet Pinkerton is insensitive, after the ceremony sings arrogantly, ‘Now I am a family , let’s get rid of these people.’ (She’s his legally to have.) Her Uncle Bonze arrives- he will spoil the celebrations, they murmur- reproaches her, she was seen at the Mission: ‘Your soul is lost.’ Disrespectfully to a Priest, Pinkerton tells him to get out -will not tolerate shouting in his house.
In the opening of their extended duet, he sings to her ‘Don’t cry little girl, your relatives aren’t worth it!’ Beneath Puccini’s rapturous music -one of the great love duets in opera- there’s a seduction scene. She sings, his words touch her heart: they repeatedly, the refrain Viene la sera (evening is coming). They’re swept along irreversibly. The bride is dressed in white. He’s transported by a sudden desire: Dear child with wonderful eyes, you are all mine.
For her, he’s the star of her firmament. (But she’s barely a girl, infatuated with the experienced older man.) She’s sitting on her knees before him (Shicoff sitting on the well side stage.) ‘They say in your country butterflies are pinned to a board.’ He replies, so they will no longer escape. Again ‘The night is for love’, she sings his refrain, ‘Do not be afraid, be mine!’
Act 2 in Butterfly’s house – Tsugouharu Foujita’s set authentically designed- witnesses the consequences of her abandonment. Yet her trust for him is unflinching. ‘Japanese girls are lazy’, she sings, convincing herself of the superiority of the American God , and way of life. She gives Suzuki (Alisa Kolosova) her last ; they’ve been spending too much. (Why didn’t Pinkerton provide for his wife?) For Pinkerton, the house is an investment. But she asks, why did he have the house filled with locks? ‘He wants to keep trouble outside’ she sings.
Suzuki repeatedly reminds her of the harsh realities: no foreign husband has ever returned. And is rebuked. (‘He promised to return when the robins are building their nests.’)
Ana Martinez is appealing, though her soprano lacks real power- charming as should be. ‘My little wife’, he’ll call her- the aria (un bel di) doesn’t quite sweep you away, Martinez underpowered against the orchestral climaxes, Vienna State Opera Orchestra inspired by no less than Placido Domingo on conductor’s rostrum.
The visit from the Consul, bearing Pinkerton’s letter is crucial, a testimony of Pinkerton’s real intent. ‘My friend’, Sharpless reads to her, ‘will you visit the pretty widow… And if she still loves me prepare her.’ At this point Sharpless falters, unable to continue- very movingly rendered by Gabriel Bermudez. What would she do if he never comes back? She’d delight people with her singing. Then, ‘I thought I would die: has he forgotten me?’ She shows him her son. ‘Have you ever seen a child in Japan with blue eyes?’ (What happens to such children , we wonder, alienated, they belong in neither culture.) Butterfly wanted to call Pinkerton for help, is even prepared to beg to provide for him. Visibly shaken- Bermudez a sympathetic figure in a sobre black suit- -‘His father (Pinkerton ) will hear of this, I promise you!’ (Sharpless witholds news of Pinkerton’s American marriage. So Butterfly rejects Japanese suitors, decorates her house sure of Pinkerton’s return.) Exquisitely scored , Act II is characterised by wistful melancholy, one of waiting , frustration. But Martinez as Butterfly doesn’t have, for me, an interesting enough voice to carry this long Act. She’s pleasant, but lacking at crucial moments.
The ship sighted, Pinkerton finally arrives. In his meeting with Sharpless, he appears callous . ‘She will realise the truth better if she comes face to face with it.’ He was warned, insists Sharpless. The Consul had told him to be careful, but he wouldn’t listen. ‘She believed you.’ Now Pinkerton is filled with remorse, sees the mistake he made which, he sings, will torment him forever (will never forget his blossom).
Mrs Pinkerton appears, (Simina Ivan) tall, blonde, elegant in a striking hat, fin-de-siecle costume. ‘That woman- what does she want of me?- is like a blow to her heart. But Pinkerton, insists, she is not to blame for her suffering. And withdraws.
Sharpless introduces Pinkerton’s wife: Pinkerton will never return. The confrontation between American wife- albeit gentle, sympathetic- and the manipulated Butterfly is shocking. And Pinkerton’s belated remorse is not quite convincing (Shicoff’s tenor surprisingly lacking in ballast.)
‘Unhappy mother to give up her son!’ Butterfly is dignified, calm. Honour demands her ritual suicide. The tragic denoument -Butterfly’s impassioned farewell (O a me, sceso dal trano) -cannot fail to move. For all the sumptuous high-romanticism of Puccini’s score, we should never forget -beneath the decorative gloss- the tawdry story of a woman’s exploitation. P.R. 19.11.2013
Photos: Ana Maria Martinez (Cio-Cio-San); Neil Shicoff (Pinkerton) and Ana Maria Martinez (Cio-Cio-San); Ana Maria Martinez and Alisa Kolosova (Suzuki)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Poehn

Verdi 200: Verdi’s A Masked Ball (Un Ballo in Maschera)

Cream moiré satin curtains invite us in as Vienna State Opera orchestra’s plucked strings and flutes open Verdi’s magisterial overture. But the proscenium arch within is only an antiquated stage set. The red drapes and stucco laurel garlands, as are the pillars in a brown green roccoco style, are obviously painted. Stale! This is the 83rd performance in this staging (Emanuele Luzzat), in Giannfranco de Bosio’s production. Time for a change.
Fortunately, this cast, mostly new to me, are very good, Vienna State Opera Orchestra, and especially Chorus, excel under veteran Verdian conductor Jésus López-Cobos.
Swedish King Gustaf III, in his opening aria, sings power is only good if it seeks virtue in glory. Yet, immediately, he’s thinking of Amelia ‘and forgets all else.’ Gustaf sings of his love for her, she, his best friend’s wife.
Kamen Chanev (short black hair, rather boyish features) has a superb, sonorous tenor. The Chorus background -perhaps ironically- chant ‘he thinks of nothing but our good.’
In his first scene with Ankarström (George Petean), Gustaf is warned he isn’t safe there. The King sings of his duty: the love of his people protects him, and God is on his side. Ankarström (Petean a fine baritone) emphasises the lives of thousands depend on him. Will the love of his people always protect him? Hate is more vigilant than love. Here, Verdi underlines Ankarström’s loyalty, thus making Gustaf’s secret betrayal -he’s in love with Ankaström’s wife- more dramatically problematic. Petean -older looking, portly, sleeked black hair, goatee beard- effortlessly sustains impressive high notes.
We hear of the fortune teller Ulrica who the King saves from banishment. ‘She tells beautiful ladies their fortune, but is in league with Lucifer’-according to the page boy Oscar (Hila Fahima) a high- pitched soprano. But the King will go in disguise.
To strident chords, stabbing cellos, Monica Bohinek’s Ulrica, witch-like, has long black tressled hair. It’s the same dull set, now with a decorative oven and cauldron. Bohinec’s mezzo has what it takes vocally, but in black lace, gypsy shrouds, so melodramatic! Is this the fault of Verdi’s neo-gothic scene? (To a ‘long live the sorceress’, she disappears in a cloud of smoke.) But in her aria ‘Where pale moonlight falls …where criminals breathe their last’, explaining where Amelia’s to find the herb she prescribes, Bohinec is lyrical, sings tenderly.
Amelia seeks a remedy for her dilemma, her love for Gustaf the King. Amelia’s plea ‘purify my heart and find peace’ is sung with ardour and feeling by Sondra Radvanovsky- overheard by the King in disguise. The trio of Gustaf left, Ulrica, and Amelia right stage is a wonderful Verdian moment.
In the publically staged fortune telling, The King , in sailor’s disguise, seeks to know ‘whether the sea and my beloved are true to me’. This is a dream role for a tenor, and Chanev, glorious, over-confident- but Ulrica knows bold words will end in tears- is a virtuoso display of the tenor’s art. ‘Know you will die by the hand of a friend. Thus it is written’, sings Ulrica, but Gustaf treats it as a joke, and bounces around mockingly. ‘And the first to shake his hand today’ is the hand of his most trusted Ankarström. But against a terrific Verdian chorus affirming their King- the voices of the conspirators, their time will come- Gustaf will defy his fate.
Un Ballo in Maschera is classic Verdi with a surfeit of big moments. And the music is ravishing. Such as Amelia’s aria ‘This terrible place has both crime and death’ (at the executioner’s ground). ‘Though I may die here, I must do it.’ Radvanovsky, who’s previously sung Amelia here, is excellent, powerful in her wavering. ‘But what if the herb erases his image from my heart?’ The aria sung to a plaintive oboe, Sondra kneeling, was well applauded.
Then the duet with Gustaf, where Amelia sings to him, she must end the torment. But he pleads, does she know that his heart, ever in pain, will cease altogether. How many sleepless nights he’s prayed she would hear him. She- Heaven help me. Go! Say no more! But Gustaf persists, he would give his life for a single word… And she demures.’Yes! I love you! Protect me from my heart.’ Kamen Chanev responds with a heavenly cry, a sustained top note, ‘You love me! Nothing remains but love.’ She’d rather die than never be his. Amelia, do you love me? Yes! These two are resplendent.
Ankarström arrives, ironically to protect the King from the plotters. Amelia, far stage, is disguised in a veil. Veils are inrinsic and instrumental to the plot, however curious that may now seem to us. (While the King escapes in Ankarström’s cloak, Ankarström offers to lead the mystery lady to safety, the two silent, looking askance.)
End of Act II, Chorus and ensemble are masterly, typical of late Verdi. Chorus sing mockingly, Ankarström is having a secret assignation with his wife. (Amelia sings, the man I adore has dishonoured me.) The mocking Chorus, reminiscent of Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight), chant ‘the tragedy has turned into a comedy that will amuse the city’.
In the complex Act 3, Ankarström threatens to kill Amelia, who begs that she see her child for the last time. In her aria, that her son should close the eyes of the mother, Radvanovsky intensely moving, soars to the highest notes. But she’s also pleading for clemency. Ankarström, surely moved, pities her tragic plight, decides another’s blood must play. Petean’s baritone impresses in another terrific aria. It was he who destroyed his happiness! This is no way to reward the loyalty of a friend. A flute accompaniment leads into a lament of the bliss no longer his with Amelia in his arms. It is all past. Ankarström joins in a pact with the conspirators, their rousing march ‘Revenge, Unite!’ reminiscent of Don Carlo and Rodrigo’s oath. (Amelia appears opportunely as the conspirators are drawing lots to assassinate the King.)
Now a screen depicts the interior of the palace. Gustaf resolves to give up Amelia, and to send her and Ankarström to their homeland. Chanev, with his beautifully rich tenor -but eschewing vibrato and false emotion- sings that he has signed his own sacrifice.(Does he have to do it all! Verdi’s familiar unenviable sovereign.) But forced to leave her he will never forget her. Indefatigably, he’ll go to the ball anyway. He’ll see Amelia for the last time and his love will be kindled by her beauty. Sung by Chanev with consummate prowess, thrilling!
The masked ball: the curtain rises on the cleverly painted sets, the trompe l’oeil galleries, leading into a recessed ballroom area. But the costumes are for real: splendid, spectacularly colourful. The black-cassocked Gustaf confers in earnest with a masked Amelia. We see his black-clad figure, with a blood-red patch, falling. Verdi’s strings parody the ball’s minuet theme background. Gustaf dying, forgives Ankarström, admits he loved his wife, but didn’t violate her honour. Ironically, tomorrow she was to leave. The Chorus, no longer ironic, sing ‘God save his noble heart.’ And what a rousing Verdi chorus- Oh! night of terror!-Vienna State Opera’s forces inspired under Jésus López-Cobos. P.R. 13.O9.2013
Photos: Monica Bohinec (Ulrica); Sondra Radvanovsky (Amelia);
Featured image: Monica Bohinec and Mihail Dogotari (Christian)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper/ Michael Poehn

Verdi’s Otello

Verdi has transformed Shakespeare’s play into an operatic masterpiece, inspired by the characters, respecting the original plot, but alchemising Shakespeare’s rare metal into a musical drama on a different level. And because Verdi’s orchestration can point up, add to, the musical drama enacted on stage, the opera is surprisingly economical, with no surplus scenes.
There’s no overture, but Verdi’s tempestuous orchestration depicting Otello’s ship caught in a storm from Venice, is ominous:’a dark spirit is in the ether.’ The chorus are on tremendous form, as is Vienna State Opera Orchestra under Dan Ettinger.
The minimalist staging (directed by Christine Mielitz), based on a white cube illuminated platform, subtly veils steel- mesh panels for the intimate scenes. The costumes are unfussy, vaguely modern, the sets unproblematic, not distracting. The drama and colour is on stage.
The first surprise is the ‘Iago’ character, dominant from the opening, and in Verdi, more explicit as to his reasons for plotting against Otello. Jago is out for revenge, passed over by Cassio who’s promoted to Captain. Against expectations it is superstar Dmitri Hvorostovsky cursing the thick -lipped Moor. ‘The world of a woman is untrustworthy.’ Jago , the soldier’s man, is a mysoginist, always manipulating women. Although Jago pretends to love Otello, he despises the Moor who demoted him. Hvorostovsky is swaggeringly confident, good looking with long white -platinum hair, dressed in a dark leather coat over black outfit. Verdi’s Jago, unlike Shakespeare’s more abstruse character, openly declares to Rodrigo, ‘If I were the Moor I would be on my guard against Jago.’
We see Cassio (Marian Talaba) swigging from a bottle side stage . He sings of Desdemona as the power of the island, and yet so modest. Jago knows that if Cassio gets drunk he loses it. So Jago rabble-rouses the soldiers to drink , stirs up Rodrigo against Cassio-‘the quarrel to spoil Otello’s first night of love.’ (‘Put down your swords’, thunders Otello; and demotes Cassio.)
Otello (José Cura) is the second surprise- grey-haired, white beard, the older man. A Shakesperean Othello would be negro -an opportunity for under-used black talent- as surely in the elitist opera world. But Cura wins on merit -a moving, disturbing portrayal, magnificently sung. (And, sorry , must a north African be black?) He’s dressed in distressed long black leather, in his first scene with Desdemona. To a long cello solo , Otello sings how, in the black night, his raging heart is subdued; Desdemona (Anja Harteros) of how many hardships preceded their great love. Harteros is a powerful soprano, endearing as Desdemona . Tall, noble, unaffected, dressed in a long , white satin gown, she has a purity of tone, her virtuoso soprano in reserve.
Cura and Harteros are natural, truly complementary. She listened with bliss to his tales of woe, with terror his battles. ‘You loved me for my suffering; I loved you for your compassion.’ In their duet, their loving relationship seems more developed than in Shakespeare. Presciently, ‘his bliss is so great he might never be this happy again.’ Desdemona, centre stage in white, stands over him, soothes his head. Cura’s all in black. These two are very convincingly in love.
Which makes Jago’s treachery all the greater, Jago knowing Otello lives only for her. Jago conspires to advise the now demoted Cassio to persuade Desdemona to intercede for him with Otello. But while Cassio is talking to Desdemona, Jago incites Otello’s jealousy.
Verdi’s aria for Jago is masterful, modern in its psychological insight into the villain’s motives. Jago from the baseness of an atom, was born wretched, sings defiantly, ‘I am a villain because I am a man and feel the primeval in me.’ And darkly ‘existentialist’, believes man is the plaything of fate, from the cradle to the grave. After so much mockery comes death! And then…Heaven is a myth. It’s a Machiavellian agenda, shockingly modern. Hvorostovsky glowers triumphantly.
So, observing Desdemona and Cassio talking, ‘My lord, did Cassio know Desdemona before you married’, Jago asks Otello. – ‘Are you my echo, putting thoughts in my head?'(Otello) Yet, Jago, implanting these insinuations, has the chutzpah to advise Otello, ‘Beware, my lord of jealousy! It is a dark hydra- it poisons with its venom.’ First the investigation, the proof, insists Otello, Cura’s rich tenor.
Desdemona, ‘an honest soul, fails to see deception’ (sing a heavenly choir). Is she too good to be true? So Verdi has children singing- perhaps ironically- Desdemona is ‘like a sacred image they adore’. Yet Desdemona -the epitomy of innocence- unwittingly promotes Cassio’s cause seeking Otello’s pardon. ‘Not now.’-‘Why so irritable.’ What troubles him?’ So Desdemona, guiless, isn’t guiltless. Harteros’s portrayal is all too human, rather than saintly.
In one of the opera’s great ensembles, on opposite sides of the stage, Jago is persuading his wife Emilia to steal a handkerchief from Desdemona, her mistress. Meanwhile Desdemona is trying to soothe Otello. We hear fragments of dialogue, ironically in contrapunct: ‘Suspicion is worse than the crime itself.’ Otello, brooding, wants to be left alone. ( In his aria, sings darkly, this spells the end of Otello’s glory; but wants proof.)
Hvorostovsky, in Act 2’s dream scene, is a highlight. Reacting to Otello’s insistence of proof of Cassio: ‘the terrible deed is always hidden.’ Otello listens intently as Jago relates how he heard Cassio calling out Desdemona’s name in his sleep. ‘Sweet Desdemona, we must hide our love…’ is sung exquisitely, passionately by Hvorostovsky. And ‘I curse the fate that gave you to the Moor’, sung from the heart, as if Hvorostovsky’s Jago is expressing his own feelings. (He is!) The dream faded, finally, Jago’s coup-de-grace, Desdemona’s handkerchief.‘This was the handkerchief in Cassio’s hands.’ Otello’s blood turns to ice: this land shall soon unearth a thunderbolt, Otello swears by the god of vengeance. The scene is a triumph for Hvorostovsky and Cura.
Otello’s interrogation of Desdemona (Act3) is another a high point. The stage is a cage effect, the white square platform -suggesting the marital bed- has a meshed guard in front. Harteros greets him: May God give you joy. He, give me your ivory hand . ‘As yet it bears no traces of pain or age. And with this same hand she gave her heart to him.’ But while he asks her for her handkerchief, she, innocently, wants to speak of Cassio. ‘It was embroidered by a sorceress. Have you lost it?’ Then she, with supreme irony,’You are playing a game with me to distract me from Cassio.’-‘Tell me who you are.’- ‘The faithful wife of Otello.’ Harteros is on her knees, head slumped. He is stalking the cage like a prisoner. She, heartrendingly, ‘behold the first tears (that grief has ever wrung from me.’ He accuses her as a common whore. She’s cowered, shrunken. Then will apologise to her. Still she’s the common whore who is Otello’s wife. She fights him off as she exits. He’s left sobbing painfully. These exchanges (Boito’s libretto) ,shockingly modern, could be from ‘Scenes from a Marriage’. Then Otello’s aria- Cara sitting behind the meshed-wire cage, ‘But you have robbed me of the illusion that nourished my soul.’
Desdemona’s two arias The Willow Song and Ave Maria are sung by Harteros with great feeling. To an exotic oboe, she requests Emilia lay out her wedding outfit; sings of how a girl once sang, wept with bitter tears, the gloomy willow will be her bridal garland. Then ‘He was born for glory, I was born for love’; and to love him to die. Harteros in white- the guilty Emilia (Monika Bominek) hooded in black -soars ‘Oh, Emilia!’. Harteros’s soprano is tempered with an affecting simplicity, singing Ave Maria. Pray for the sinner, the innocent. Pray for those who bear abuse, suffer tragic fates. Pray for us always, even in the hour of death. Harteros is on a deserted stage, kneeling, a figure of suffering. For once no applause was possible.
Dan Ettinger’s double-basses prepare us as Otello approaches her veiled bed- a dark presence violating this spiritual purity . Cura, swarthy in black , cold measured restraint, like a serial killer, ‘If you remember any sin, now’s the time to atone…’ But she insists, she doesn’t love Cassio. The veil collapses. The strangling is very, horribly real.(Emilia arrives announcing Casio has killed Rodrigo. Casio lives.) She dies blameless. Cura, over the body laid out, ‘how pale, silent, beautiful you are: born under an evil star, Desdemona died.’ There is absolute silence in the House. A bassoon bleats mournfully; Otello craves one more kiss before dying. With tenderness and compassion, Verdi expresses the fragility of being human. P.R.20.09.2013
Photos: José Cura (Otello) and Anja Harteros (Desdemona); Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Jago); Anja Harteros (Desdemona); Dmitri Hvorostovsky headline
(c) Wiener Staasoper/ Michael Pӧhn

Carmen at Vienna State Opera

The credentials are impressive- Rinat Shaham as Carmen, Roberto Alagna, no less, as Don José; and stage designed by the legendary Italian film producer Franco Zefirelli. And Vienna State Opera Orchestra (and Chorus), Bizet’s exotic score, with its authentic Spanish influences. But somehow the spark is missing. That score, conducted by Dan Ettinger, doesn’t quite ignite on this epic set.
Peeling stone ramparts, canopied roof, rotting rafters, (Seville’s) market stalls selling fruit and vegetables – traditional period costumes -the stage could be out of a mid- 19th Century painting. As Michaela (searching for her fiancee Don José) soprano Anita Hartig, with plaited brunette hair, in a simple white apron dress, sounds exquisite, but too good to be true as the ‘pretty bird’ ribalded by the soldiers. The street children playing soldiers -Oh, Misérables!- as in a Victorian musical, sing much too innocently. The set, however, is rather colourless, bland- men in sand-coloured suits, matching soldiers’ uniforms khaki – girls in pastel, rainbow -effect, frocks. Are these the dangerous workers in a cigarette factory? They sing angelically in this idyll.
Carmen, however, (Rinat Shaham), wears a purple and black dress, her lower petticoat cerise, her long jet-black hair hanging provocatively. And she’s barefoot, salaciously introducing herself to the men with a Habanera, singing ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle.’
Don José (Roberto Alagna), sits on the side, symbolically fingering his rosary beads- not even looking- while Carmen is being hoisted up by her male admirers. Shaham is languid, sensual. (One man in a white suit is on his knees to her.) Certainly the gypsy, her rich mezzo not yet splitting high notes. She turns to José- Alagna in army jacket, white holster, black boots. He seems perplexed, transformed, picks up her billet-doux, the flower she’s thrown.
By contrast, Micaela (mother’s choice) and Jose, reunited , are rapturous together. But Hartig looks over-plain, like a milk-maid; but she sings movingly, with a classical purity, of his home, reminding him of his family duties. This music is altogether different- in the French operatic tradition- to the exotic Spanish rhythms and harmonies for Carmen, suggesting transgressive sexual danger. The ‘straight’ French music for Micaela represents moral courage, defending family values. Thus the different styles underline José’s moral conflict.
Alagna (just turned 50) looks twenty years younger- fit for soldiering; and his richly sonorous tenor- still ripe and fruity- is superb in duet with Hartig.’There is no one more virtuous: he’ll marry her.’
Cut to the cigarette factory girls fighting- the fight well choreographed- Carmen distinguishable in lilac tones. Don José restrains Carmen, her ‘Tra la la’ mocking, picking up her skirts provocatively. ‘She’ll keep his secret’; insists she’s not to blame for the knife fight. Alagna, his auburn hair now red under the spotlight, tries to tie her up . She resists demurely; and tugs on the chain as if to coax him on. Defiantly feisty, Shaham sings, ‘My heart is free.’ Carmen has a dozen suitors, but not to her liking. ‘Will you keep your promise and love me?’ Alagna responds with passionate body language, he will. (The arresting officer charges Don José to guard her. Carmen escapes.)
Act 2 at Lillas Pastia’s, Carmen and the gypsies’ hangout, opens to a spectacular Spanish gypsy dance sequence. The stage backed by steep rocky stairs, Escamillo descends to perform his Toreador song, boasting of his powers. (Bizet intended it to be vulgar.) Laurent Naouri, a deep baritone, (perhaps needing a lighter tone), is lithely handsome dressed in black embroidered waistcoat, white trousers; Carmen, her eyes glued, trips him passing by. Naouri re-enacts moves from the bullfight: beh ind him the other toreadors are waving their capes. Escamillo has girls all around him- but Carmen hooks him on a sustained note. He visits her table; they flirt speaking in French. Shaham’s face is radiant, transfixed as the bullfighters exit.
Yet Don José is the soldier imprisoned for abetting her escape. Now released, Carmen dances for him to castanets and pizzicato strings, Shaham luring Alagna with incredibly suggestive hip movements. Trumpet in the background, bugles approaching- in contrapunct to the castanets- illustrate his conflicting loyalties, José summoned back to quarters. Alagna is superb, rebutting Carmen’s taunts. Don’t poke fun at me! No woman has bewitched him so completely. She mocks him: that’s how much he loves me, (the ‘fate’ motif heard on cor anglais.) In José’s aria, Alagna movingly sings of the flower he’d kept (La fleur que tu m’avais jetée ) she’d thrown at him. Although it withered, for hours he breathed in the scent. And Alagna, increasingly powerfully, how he regretted his profanity, but had one wish only, to see her again. ‘All you have to do is look at me and I’m yours.’ Alagna is peerless in French romantic roles: a highlight.
‘No you don’t love me. But if you really loved me, you’d follow me… Là-bas dans le montagne. He resists, can’t listen to her – desertion is dishonour. But fate intervenes: smugglers disarm José’s commanding officer.)
Rocky cave, snow falling in (Act 3’s ) smuggler’s lair. Carmen has read her fate in the cards. ‘C’est destiné .’ (Shaham’s gypsy friends seem too genteel- lacking menace?) ‘Death! First me. Then him.’ Carmen’s aria is surprisingly moving in its sombre darkness. Shaham intimates a tragic side to Carmen hitherto unseen- stark, introspective, against the exuberant, extrovert ‘Carmen’ character.
Micaela, who’s come to ‘rescue’ José from Carmen, in her aria pretends to be strong, but, inside she’s all alone dying of fear . Superlatively sung by Anita Hartig, she will wait to see the woman who made an outlaw of her lover; but won’t fear her. Hartig sustains absolutely terrific top notes . Micaela’s heartrending aria is an unexpected treasure. Sung powerfully on a gloomy, dark stage, Hartig was enthousiastically applauded.
It is apt that, in the fight between the rivals José and Escamillo -Escamillo saved from José’s wrath – José is provoked in the argument as ‘a soldier who deserted, but Carmen is never in love for long!’ And, presciently, ‘but if if you take a gypsy girl, you have to pay with the knife.’
The stage for Carmen’s wedding, with house facades either side, is a street scene outside the bullring -ladies in white frocks and brollies, orange vendors and flower stalls. It’s the big Hollywood cinemascope spectacular. Escamillo is in full toreador regalia, accompanied by Carmen. Shaham wears an oriental-design satin dress with white lace headpiece, but scarlet lipstick.
Alone with Carmen centre stage, Alagna, his hair disheveled, appears in a black cape, his white smock shirt untidily open. The full croon: he’s not threatening, but begging. –‘C’est fini.’– ‘There’s still time. He can save her; and him with her.’ She knows he will kill her, but won’t give in to him.
Alagna holds her; falls hopelessly to his knees begging, sobbing. She’s haughty, (Shaham) raising her head in disdain.- ‘So you no longer love me.’ José is increasingly desperate, begs her not to leave him. Carmen will never give in: born free, she will remain free. Now Shaham hits those high notes. ‘Kill me or let me go!’ Alagna now with his shirt wide open, maybe over-indulgent, too melodramatic. After the final clinch, he appears, his shirt bloodied, (her blood). The triumphantly banal Toreador refrain heard background, as the dramatic ‘Fate’ theme finally prevails. The ending -marred by Alagna’s histrionics- left me underwhelmed. P.R. 18.09.13

Photos: Rinat Shaham (Carmen); Roberto Alagna (Don José) and Rinat Shaham (Carmen); Roberto Alagna (Don José)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper/ Michael Pöhn
I’m indebted to Gerald Larner’s CBSO (2005) programme notes.

La Traviata revisited

After my experience of the premier production of Vienna State Opera’s chaotic post-modern Verdi La Traviata, I wasn’t relishing another. But noticing Simon Keenlyside billed as (Giorgio) Germont, maybe the singing might redeem it. Well, and how! Forget all those crazy sets. Forget the distracting play within a play, rehearsing ‘La Traviata’- hopeless to follow if you’re not conversant with Verdi’s opera, or the 19th century context- a ‘courtesan’, the young aristocrat besotted by her who sacrifices all for love, the patriarchal father who persuades her to give him up. Yet she (Violetta), already ‘reformed’, had devoted herself in vain to Alfredo, a ruinous waster. And, alienated, Violetta, like Dumas’ ‘The Lady of the Camelias’, is doomed by that 19th century disease ‘consumption’- to die isolated, unecessarily in poverty.
This Violetta, Marina Rebeka, is bewitching -her appeal overwhelming -conveying a joie-de-vivre, gaiety, but also fragility. And the voice is enthralling. And this Alfredo, Massimo Giordano, endowed with a God-given tenor, fervently embodies the hot-blooded Romantic figure. Together they have a natural empathy, bubbling exuberance.
In Rebeka’s first appearance- staged as if she’s auditioning- Rebeka’s exciting, feisty, swigging back a bottle: like a Carmen, dangerously sexual. ‘You will kill yourelf: must take of yourself’, sings Alfredo. Giordano in his first aria un di felice, eterea , singing of ‘a love that is the heartbeat of the universe, mysterious, sublime,’ Giordano hits all the right notes. Rebeka’s Violetta, is teasingly beguiling, their duet superlatively rendered. Rebeka’s coloratura is breathtaking- the audience could hardly wait to applaud. Giordano’s Alfredo is ardent, impassioned, the reckless young man in love. ‘Tell me again you love me’:’How happy I am’. Adio. (We couldn’t ask for more.) Then the drinking song, Libiamo evoking exotic Paris : they’re all out on the town, the city is full of nightlife . Does it matter that this is a dowdy rehearsal room, like a grim village hall, bareboards, utility chairs? Vienna State Opera Chorus- authentically Italian- would be inspiring on a railway platform. Wow!
Violetta now alone, Rebeka is impressive in her aria singing of how no man has ever inflamed her before. His words go straight to her head: perhaps it’s he, her lonely soul has awaited. Then, ‘a love that is the heart of the universe’, echoing Alfredo, their tune. Rebeka has such warmth: a light supple but powerful soprano. And she really does hit the top notes. The party girl, she’s ‘forever free to seek out new delights’; and she’s dancing. In the background we hear ‘felice..’, Giordano’s voice backstage strong enough to carry. Rebeka holding the stage is simply fabulous- unaffected, but such a powerful range. Wonderful singing!
Alfredo, opening Act 2 admits how shameful he’s been, when Annina announces Violetta had to sell her horses and carriage to fashion his extravagant lifestyle. Yet Germont blames Violetta. Simon Keenlyside- most impressive of Verdi baritones -arrives at Violetta’s. He slurs Violetta: ‘You live luxuriously-that puzzles a lot of people.’ She wishes to sell all her posessions, he suggests, to escape from her past. Germont subtly pressurises her : if Alfredo doesn’t break it off, she’ll ruin his beautiful daughter’s engagement. ‘I am to leave him forever?’-‘It must be so’, their duet to a stabbing string accompaniment. ‘Oh, this punishmant is so cruel I would rather die!’- Germont’s response -‘a great sacrifice, but she is young, and with time…’ is cruelly cynical. But Germont’s smooth rhetoric, is emphasised by Keeenlyside’s mellifluous baritone: and Keenlyside’s appeal, dressed in a pastel designer three- piece suit, looking like an Italian heart throb.
Rebeka is tender, heartbreaking , in Violetta’s poignant response, ‘Although God has forgiven me; Man shows no mercy’. She bids Alfredo farewell, to love her as much she loves him; and Germont to tell his daughter ‘a wretched woman makes this sacrifice before she dies.’ She pleads ‘What shall I do?’, then Marina, plaintive, self-effacing, ‘Embrace me like a daughter, it will give me strength.’
Alfredo is seen reading his father’s letter, reminding him of his home and family responsibilities. Yet Verdi himself married a ‘singer’, fought petty bourgeois morality lifelong. So Germont’s singing ‘And God has brougth me here’, referring to ‘the voice of honour’, reeks of hypocrisy. Keenlyside’s aria, however, powerfully delivered, received enormous applause. Keenlyside grabs his wayward son by the lapels. He will not reproach Alfredo: ‘Let us forget the past.’ Patriarchy has prevailed. The dangerous woman expurged, Afredo now sings of revenge.
I was prepared to forget Jean-Francois Sivadier’s ‘play-within-a-play’ until the Ball scene. ‘We are gypsies come afar’ is like walking in on a rehearsal for Chorus Line. (‘Let us draw a veil on the past, what’s done is done’ is surely ironic.) But the introduction of the Spanish matadors is sensational, with soloists from Vienna State ballet. There’s sustained rhythmic timing from the orchestral accompaniment, a bouncing vitality injected throughout by conductor Marco Armiliato.
Alfredo, Giordano in a long waistcoat, looking like a beatnik, now rolls up his white shirt sleeves for the crunch. Violetta appears with the Baron Douphoil. She insists she ordered the Baron to accompany her. Alfredo defying the Baron, almost throttles Violetta in his fury. (‘Douphoil, so you love him!’) Giordano- impassioned, riveting -now addresses the Ball guests: ‘Do you know what she did? She sacrificed all her belongings. I was a coward’ Now he wishes to repay her. And he throws notes at her -his winnings- like confetti. Violetta , humiliated, and ill, collapses in shock. Germont horrified rebukes Alfredo’ a man who insults a woman deserves contempt. Where is my son?’ There are mixed voices, the Chorus of guests chant ‘We suffer your pain Violetta’, Violetta that Alfredo cannot comprehend her love. Oh, what suffering! (Marina stumbles to her feet.)
Rebeka is exceptional in the harrowing 3rd Act. Violetta, in her party dress, is undressed by Annina. Weak and in agonising pain, she sinks into her chair, to Verdi’s thin string accompaniment, tearing, minimalist orchestration. A doctor, a friend, comforts her, but ‘the consumption will take her in hours’. She sings, her body suffers, but her soul is at peace. Rebeka actually reads out Germont’s letter -Take care of yourself; then sings ‘Farewell happy dreams of the past…’ Her wonderful aria loses nothing in its familiarity, because Marina sings with such purity and simplicity -the soprano stripped of belcanto virtuoso affectation. The audience couldn’t clap.
Rebeka’s face lights up as Alfredo arrives. She’s standing front of stage, renewed. They’re embracing regardless; she slumps in his arms. They’ll leave Paris (he sings) and go through life together, a bright future. Rebeka echoes his heady sentiment: she’ll be well again. Rebeka stretches out her arms- still in this reverie, she wants to go out. ‘But if your returning cannot save me, nothing in the world can…’ To die so young when she has suffered so much.
The ironic refrain of carnival outside accelerates, Verdi increasing the pathos of the scene. ‘Take this picture of me’ is sung by Rebeka with unselfconcious emotion; she insists he give it to the young woman he must marry. In Verdi’s ensemble, Germont sings, I will never stop weeping for you; Alfredo, Let me die with you; Violetta, Give her my portrait.
The achievment of this magnificent trio was to avoid the sentimentality of ‘Victorian’ melodrama: to justify Verdi’s magnificent musical drama (Piave’s libretto) -transcending cliche- by giving it their all. And Armiliato’s conducting fired Vienna State Opera Orchestra (and Chorus) feeling the pulse of Verdi’s complex score, relishing one glorious tune after another. Verdi’s operas can withstand radically alienating staging, with performers this committed. PR.12.09.2013
Photos: Massimo Giordano (Alfredo) Alexandra Kurzak (Violetta); Simon Keenlyside (Giorgio Germont) and Alexandra Kurzak (Violetta); Alexandra Kurzak and Donna Ellen (Annina)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn
Unfortunately photos of Marina Rebeka as Violetta in the 12th September cast were not available.

Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde

Last year I heard an exemplary concert performance of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde -Andris Nelsons conducting the CBSO, (including Stephen Gould as Tristan). But there is no comparison to a staged performance, Wagner’s operas being conceived as Gesamtkunstwerk , total music theatre. And, CBSO notwithstanding, Vienna State Opera orchestra, under Frans Welser-Mӧst would have been inspired by the events on stage- that electric charge of live theatre! I’ve heard wonderful Wagner playing here – they’ve performed The Ring thrice in the last 4 years- but Vienna Staatsoper surpassed themselves.
The success of Vienna’s new production also owes to David McVicar’s highly effective staging. A ghostly hulk floats forward in the overture (Vorspiel), revealing the carcass of a ship from some antiquity. Seamen, like slaves, perform ritualised rowing movements front of stage. In Act 2 there’s a mast, like 1930’s RKO Radio Pictures -or is it a phallic transmitter?- dominating the rocky beach beneath. At the moment of their orgasmic union, brilliant white daylight is cast as King Mark’s men invade the stage.
And Peter Seiffert (Tristan) and Nina Stemme (Isolde) are equal to their roles. Wagner demands not only the most powerful singers, but also great actors. As in the dramatic climax to Act 1: Love in death. Isolde drinks the poison draft she offers to Tristan, who had murdered her husband. But Isolde’s maid knowingly switched the phial for a love potion. They run into each other’s arms uninhibitedly, thinking they’re dying -rekindling the passion since they first met (when Isolde had saved the wounded Tristan, but could have killed him.) As the love potion takes effect, the two lovers unleashed, Sieffert and Stemme abandoned to passion, as if they’re drunk on love. Not only does their singing reach ecstatic highs, they both enact their long suppressed passion as if both were in love for the first time. They are not beautiful, but embracing tenderly, they inspire the feeling of what it is to be in love. It was overwhelmingly moving; I was fighting back my own emotion.
My second visit, the last of the season, with Linda Watson as Isolde, offered a better view of the Act 2 stage, dominated by the tower, with concentric saturn-like rings- torches on each side -resembling a huge phallic symbol. The set is bathed in a moonlight silver. ‘Put out the light!’ Heavenly delirium! Mine and yours. ‘Tristan mine: Isolde eternally yours!’ Day and night are symbols. Tristan sings of the ‘malicious day’. How could Isolde be his in the radiance of day? ‘Heilige Dӓmmerung!’ (holy twilight). Let day give way to death. Their love, could death ever stifle it? Seiffert is supreme, singing with matchless intensity.
‘But how can Tristan die for love, if his love never dies?’ Isolde interjects, ‘But our love is called Tristan und (and) Isolde, is it not?’- Then (Tristan) we would die to be forever united, as one, living only for the night. Isolde sings the refrain, ‘forever to be as one’, and the two in unison, ‘given only to each other’ to Wagner’s ever-surging climax. Finally, Tristan, ‘Must I awake. Each day gives way to death!'(Oh! einige Nacht, süsse Nacht!’).
The stage is now swamped by soldiers, King Mark’s men, who take up position, with Tristan and Isolde front stage. It’s superlatively staged – a barren rocky beach, the soldiers menacing in fierce medieval battledress. And Wagner, in a coup-de theatre, has timed Mark’s arrival- he’s supposed to be marrying Isolde, escorted by his loyal henchman Tristan- at the very moment of their exalted ecstasy. Coitus interruptus? No, not physically, but their spiritual love maybe even greater.
King Mark (Stephen Milling) sings at length of his betrayal by Tristan, the loyalest of the loyal – to emphasise how this former hero has been sunk by love. A tragic hero, (perhaps like Macbeth) fallen from grace, Tristan’s betrayal is an act of high treason. Tristan is awakened to the brutal realities of the day, the stage brilliantly lit, as soldiers take up assault positions.
Act 3, the set like a Cornish cove, a rocky terrain, a red sun overhead- David McVicar’s production is a triumph. A horn solo, like primeval bird song, is all we hear against this desolation. Returned to his lands, but Tristan is in another world, the vast realm of universal night. Kurwenal (Jochen Schmeckenbecher, a fine baritone) tries to wake his master, his hero. Sieffert, slumped in an armchair, all in black -dying of his wounds- is aroused by the announcement of a ship carrying Isolde. Tristan curses the day and the light. (An oboe introduction, spare strings , evoke desolation.) Isolde kommt, Isolde nӓht!’ Seiffert, a very physical actor, comes to life, his face glowing. This most expressive, authentic of tenors, projects his vocal virtuosity onto another level. The light, when does it go out? Night is for lovers; love is in death. Oh, treue Isolde! Somehow, he’s standing. Kurwenal, do you see it?- No, (to a mournful cor anglais), there is no ship.
Seiffert now on his knees, a dark figure, centre stage- pouring out his woes. ‘To yearn and to die !’ What balm can bring relief; he distilled the poison from his father’s grief (his mother died giving him birth.) Seiffert is tremendous- ranting to the heavens like a King Lear, his silver hair like a raging lion. Furchtbares Trink, he curses the love potion- now poison- waiting for Isolde’s no-show. In vain. He rises, and finally collapses, as Isolde’s ship is sighted.
Isolde has come to die with him. But she’s too late – Zu spӓt, trotziger Mann!– (obstinate man). She can’t complain to him. Will he not take pity on her suffering guilt, just one more time? Death and damnation! The arrival of a second ship, with King Mark. Isolde, with the slain Tristan, they’re lying together centre stage. In the closing Liebestod Isolde sweeps off into the night. Unbewusst, hӧchste Lust. The train from Stemme’s red gown is the only colour against the stony grey background. Isolde sings of Liebestod, Oh, death, to sink into utmost oblivion.
Seiffert’s is a titanic performance, but endearing in its vulnerable humanity. These lovers are all too fallibly human, unlike The Ring’s gods of nordic folklore. Stemme proved that ‘as Isolde, she is currently peerless, a supreme actress, with what it takes to overcome the vocal demands of this great role.’
Linda Watson replaced (30th June) the advertised Isolde at very short notice. Watson is a formidable Wagnerian performer, and impressed audiences as (Thielemann’s) Brunnhilde in Vienna’s 2011 Ring cycle. Watson, both vocally and enacting Isolde, met the extreme demands of the role in the first two Acts. Her rapport with Seiffert was remarkable, also the symbiosis of their body language. But, Linda Watson wasn’t quite up to the closing Liebestod. She didn’t have the power of a Nina Stemme, as my Viennese neighbour put it rather unkindly. Stemme whom I did hear (26th June) was indeed phenomenal. And Stemme sang all performances from the (13) June premiere, arriving in Vienna with a worldwide reputation as Isolde. But Watson, in fairness, wasn’t even pre- advertised, and the role requires both legendary vocal power and stamina.
(30 June 2013) PR
Photos: Peter Seiffert (Tristan) and Nina Stemme (Isolde); Peter Seiffert (Tristan); Nina Stemme (Isolde)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper/ Michael Pӧhn

Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet

Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette at Vienna State Opera has everything to offer as opera performance. Placido Domingo, an operatic legend, here the conductor, inspired incisive, but passionate playing. Of a solid ensemble, the title roles are excellent and ideally matched. Piotr Beczala is a world renowned tenor, and Sonya Yoncheva is already being hailed as ‘a new star in the operatic firmament’ (Kurier), praised for her beautiful timbre, perfect register, radiant high notes.
The staging is spectacular, (Jurgen Flimm’s production) looks good from the opening Prologue, with the Choir facing us in red, relating the sad tale, with silver coffins left of stage. The Capulets Ball, well choreographed, is staged as modern fancy dress, predominantly red and black outfits, with flash cameras going off ON STAGE (not off), and a bank of hi-tech lighting. Juliette (Yoncheva) makes a sensational entrance , discarding her trailing white cloak to reveal a slinky black one-piece- as she flicks her remote control to start the firework display.
It’s got the lot. The problem, for me, is Gounod’s music: from the Overture, sometimes syrupy and unctuous, rhetorical, bombastic. Like Victorian 19th Century art, gilded but over-decorative, as biedermeier furniture. Like over- indulging on a torte, layers of cream, over-sweet.
So Mercutio’s dream, a pre-sentiment- in Shakespeare the brilliant Queen Mab speech- all sounds very sedate in Gounod’s rich 19th century heavy sauce. No mercurial lightness.
Just look at that! A radiant beauty, divine treasure. Never bedore has he, Romeo, known such beauty, (observes Romeo of Juliette). Piotr Beczala lays it on thick. It’s not inappropriate that Domingo is the conductor. He, Beczala, belongs in that stable of thoroughbreds.
Juliette, in her aria, dreams of marriage: declaims ‘Let my soul have its springtime’, wishes to live in the enthralling dream that envelopes her. The stage resembles a sundial in blue light, floating down a sea of red petals, covering the stage floor. She’s dancing alone with the masked figure, in red frock coat, now her lover. The search-lights in the background are like a rock concert’s . Their duet, however, is in the grand French opera tradition. Pleasant though it is, it’s somehow unmemorable, a little over-sweet. Beczala and Yoncheva , however, are a couple. Tybalt (Dimitrios Flemotomus) in a claret suit- a red-hot talent- recognises, and sees off, Romeo the enemy Montague. ‘So that is Romeo!’ realises Juliette.
Romeo sings, bemoans, ‘What anguish!’ Be patient, he’s cautioned.(The scene cleverly fades out, with the ball ensemble centre stage, as Juliette is being dressed for bed.)
Super staging (Patrick Woodroffe): the star-spangled night is suggested by micro-red dots and blue spotlights for the sky. Juliette lies on a white crescent, splattered with paintbox colours. (Romeo, oh night shelter me !). Romeo sees the light from a window: sings how love has conquered him completely. ‘Sun arise to let the stars and firmament fade away.’ It’s not Shakespeare. Nor ‘She loosens a lock of her hair …how beautiful she is.’ (Not my translation!)
However faithful Gounod and Halevy (libretto) may have tried to be to Shakespeare, the poetry- if there is any – is in the music. Romeo’s aria, superbly delivered by Piotr Beczala, was well applauded.
Juliette, sitting on the crescent (her window) : if he could see her blushes he’d know the colour of her heart. But now she believes him, and will trust her honour to him. The night’s indiscreet veil has revealed her secret.- He pledges his word, by God. They clinch. Beczala and Yonsheva are wonderful together, both completely identified with their roles. While (ballroom) couples are close- dancing main stage, she promises her life to him. (Effectively staged, the Capulets- alerted to the Montagues in their grounds- are brandishing baseball bats.)
Act 3 (after the interval) opens with Friar Laurent’s ‘secret’ wedding. It’s not for us to criticise the adaptation of a play into a musical medium. But Gounod had to marry his lovers early. No pre-nuptial sex, given the all-powerful Catholic Church in 19th century France. So it’s typical of Gounod’s opera to devote an inordinate time to this long (and boring) ceremony. Yet in Shakespeare, it was a simple affair, Friar Lawrence being an ‘alternative’ preacher or faithhealer?
The high drama of Mercutio’s, then Tybalt’s death, comes after. The action is very well handled. The Capulets, in camel coats and red scarves are provoked by Mercutio. (How dare this clown disturb them?). Romeo’s in a black biker jacket, his mob blue-scarved. Tybalt’s ‘the mod’ in a DB bronze two-tone suit.Tybalt removes his jacket, fanning it like a matador. Mercutio falls, but fatally wounded. ‘Tybalt, you are the only coward here,’ challenges Romeo. Beczala, both vocally and dramatically, is superlative.
Now, tremendously staged, on the left lies Tybalt front stage, ranks of Capulets behind- with Mercutio right stage, the stage divided between the respective clans. The Doge (Prince) arrives leading dignitaries. His nephew Tybalt was killed by Romeo. Justice! Here Gounod makes the humanist message for conciliation, which in Shakespeare (and Berlioz) closes for emphasis. ‘More blood can nothing extinguish. Will nothing stop you?’ Law decrees the death penalty, but he exiles Romeo. (Romeo sings of his unjust fate: hope, blood and tears.)
So now to Romeo and Juliette, in bed and married. Thus, in this depiction, their love making can be uninhibited. (Oh bridal night, this night of love.) Their body language is synchronised, Beczala and Yoncheva have a certain chemistry. ‘The lark already heralds the dawn, but he still hears the nightingale, love’s beckoner.’ They are locked together, they tumble, rolling almost into the pit. It’s a moving scene, very sensual and very powerful. Yoncheva’s ‘Farewell, I’m yours, entrust him to heaven’ especially moving.
Incongruously, the Nurse exclaims, ‘Juliette, thank goodness your husband has left!’ But, it was Tybalt’s last wish she marry the husband of his choice, friend and kinsman Paris. So Juliette’s only a pawn in this patriarchy. Juliette complains to Father Laurent, the situation is his fault, in obeying him to get married. She casts off her wedding outfit. Laurent (Dan Dumitrescu, very warm and sympathetic) persuades her to drink a potion so she’ll appear dead- then flee with her husband.
Juliette’s aria anguishes over whether to drink the potion: imagines seeing Tybalt’s ghost. And what if Romeo were to wake before her? Yoncheva enraptures, captivates, especially in pianissimo, with enormous power in reserve for astonishingly high notes.
‘C’est la scene’-Romeo goes straight to the grave. (We adroitly bypass Shakespeare’s plot complications.) So unbeknown, seeing her laid out, he drinks the poison to join her. ‘Our fathers have hearts of stone,’ bewails Romeo. Now the set is black and white, just a few bright spotlights in the firmament. They’re both dying, laid out front of stage, reach out touching, then interlocked. They rise, the heavens open up with the ‘stars’ parting. Thus Gounod gives precedence to the ‘romance’ of French grand opera- over the moral of conciliation. Romeo and Juliette had to be sacrificed for the warring parties to settle family feuds. But the Doge’s message (‘Oh, day of sadness -you come too late’) is buried in Gounod’s 3rd Act.
However, the Vienna audience, were too busy cheering the performances of Beczala and Yoncheva, who took their applause together, hugging each other. As opera experience this was unforgettable. Domingo’s conducting motivated bravura playing and singing from Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus. But for me it’s rather vacuous, Gounod’s well-crafted music is superficial, overpadded- like the furniture of the period. PR. 25.06.2013
Photos: Piotr Beczala (Romeo) and Sonya Yoncheva (Juliette); Sonya Yoncheva (Juliette); Piotr Beczala (Romeo); featured image Sonya Yoncheva
(c) Wiener Staatsoper/ Michael Pohn

Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (Volksoper)


Handsomely staged, Vienna Volksoper’s production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte actually looks better than Vienna State Opera’s. Do the sets matter when Mozart’s opera is so familiar? Yes! if the opera is to make sense of the confusing and fantastical plot that can descend into pantomine. But Mozart’s last opera, composed concurrently with the Requiem – is both comic and serious. Sarastro’s religious order might be an allegory for a masonic order (to which Mozart allegedly belonged) ; but the opera rather represents good prevailing over the (evil) magic exercised by the ‘Queen of the Night.’ And Mozart/Schickaneder’s Die Zauberflöte celebrates the dawning of Enlightenment, and perhaps, premiered in 1791, even a new political order.
Vienna Volksoper’s Magic Flute (directed by Helmuth Lohner) is effectively set in the 19th Century. There’s none of the post-modern switching between ‘period’ and contemporary . Or the anarchic disorientation of, say, Peter Stein’s WNO 1990s production set on a Los Angeles beach. And, from the Overture , a high musical standard is ensured by the refined orchestral sound ( Volksoper Orchestra ably conducted by Alfred Eschwe), with quality woodwind playing: mellow, mature strings with real depth.
Even the opening ‘dragon’ scene, usually embarrassing, works – cast in twighlight gloom, with the scary monster serpent disappearing into a cavity centre stage. The Queen’s ‘Three Ladies’, who loom over the prostrate man, in Victorian ruffled gowns and bonnets, are perhaps too elegant . Tamino awoke (JunHo You) sings with a terrible German accent. Papageno, in a grey suit and hat – looks every bit the Victorian natural scientist, here birdwatcher. Klemens Sander is an excellent baritone. But is he a little too serious for this impish role?
The problem is the ‘eastern’ Tamino and the traditional I9th century naturalist -authentic Wienerwald– doesn’t make sense. Papageno, in the opera, is the social outsider, not Prince Tamino. The Three Ladies reappear in grungy taffeta gowns, gothic, spiked up hairdos- all black, rather vampiric. Papageno, beaten up, Tamino is enticed by a picture of Tamina (the Queen’s kidnapped daughter.) Tamina’s picture is projected onto the backstage- cleverly done. (We’re looking forward to seeing her.) Tamino’s Mein Herz aria shows JunHo You’s tenor impressive, but not distinctive.
The Queen of the Night (Beate Ritter) rises out of the centre-stage circular platform, in black with extended hairpiece. Such an exquisite light soprano, but the innocent quality is rather inappropriate. High pitched, fragile? Does she know what she’s singing, (a tale of sworn revenge?) Ritter, revealing a glittering turquoise skirt, achieves a superb, bird-like pitch, offering the magic flute and bells for Tamino and Papageno’s protection.
In the first Act , set as if in a cave, Pamina is first seen in a white gown, trapped (by Monostatus) like a butterfly in a net. Papageno brings Pamina the news that she’s to be freed. Their famous duet, filled with happiness, is about the power of love. As good-natured Papageno, complaining he needs a wife, Klemens Sander seems too mature, and authorative. Andrea Bogner’s soprano is only pleasant.
But if the cast is ordinary, or mis-cast, Vienna Volksoper’s sets (Johan Engels) are spectacularly effective. The portal to the Temple, in gold , has inscribed in huge letters Weisheit, Natur, Vernunft (Wisdom, Nature, Reason)- virtually slogans for an Enlightenment manifesto. Sarastro (bass Andreas Daum) in a white waistcoat, donning a cloak with gold lining, is like the Professor of an academic establishment. Daum’s is a deep, tremendous bass- obviously a seasoned performer. Sarastro’s wiseman has moral authority, but Daum’s affable character is not physically fearsome.
Again well staged, Tamino’s on his knees, as the door to the Temple opens up, at first to reveal a petrified forest scene. An orange cluft, opening back of stage, represents Enlightenment, through which Sarastro and his priests emerge. In the Act 1 climax, Tamino’s led before the Assembly, the lovers meeting for the first time, Andrea Bogner’s Pamina’s lightweight floundering is simply not up to the part. Tamino sounds under-nourished. But the staging is beautiful: ranks of priest -like figures in orange striped gowns, centre-stage Sarastro, in white suit and magic cloak, like Prospero, the lovers to be ritually separated, on either side.
Also impressive is the inner temple opening Act 2, a circular chamber, with seated black-suited men with top hats and donning honorary stripes. In the centre, the throne is rather a pedestal housing a huge telescope. So an observatory , as if this were a scientific academy. Thus the staging anticipates 19th century industrial/scientific advances.
By contrast the Three Ladies in shimmering black dresses, with top hats and white bows -like hostesses in a sex club – look dangerous, (tempting Tamino and Papageno not to trust Sarastro.) And, in this polarisation of good and evil, night and day, Monostatos tries to kiss the sleeping Pamina. But disturbed by the Queen of the Night. She tells her daughter about the cosmic secret -the inner circles of the sun- Pamina’s father gave to Sarastro’s initiates. Now she wants to avenge herself, and offers Pamina a dagger to kill Sarastro.
The Queen appears, ascending through a circular stage, backed by a crescent moon, Beate Ritter in emerald turquoise with a horn -like headpiece. But Ritter’s soprano is too thin. She hits the right notes, like an exotic bird rather than a sorceress. She’s not really threatening, hers rather a voice to bewonder.(Pamina, nevertheless, is collapsed center stage in fear). And (Jeffrey Treganza’s) thin built, white-shirted, Monostatos – who tries to rape her- shouldn’t he be monstrous, if not physically?
Bogner’s Pamina is also disappointing in her key scenes. When she approaches Tamino -‘Are you sad?’- he’s sworn (as Papageno) not to speak. The audience laughed. (Bogner’s soprano struggled uncomfortably.) But Tamino’s silence, her imagined rejection, are grounds for Pamina’s attempted suicide.
Later, Pamina enters in a white gown , brandishing a knife. She’s prevented by the three Knaben (Vienna Boys Choir): absolutely enchanting. Their singing was enough to stop her; even to inspire Bogner to sing better.
Again, outstanding set, two winged messengers like statues guarding the sacred portals, are the backdrop for the wonderful duet between Tamino and Pamina, sworn to each other’s love, led by the Zauberflöte. Superb flute accompaniment, but routinely sung.
In the comic sub-plot, Papagena , who in brown rags had the audience in stitches, sheds her disguise and emerges, pink- haired, in shocking rose-pink satin. And proceeds to a striptease down to her satin bloomers. Johanna Arrouas was deservedly well applauded.
So the sets rather upstage the performers . The staging, especially in the closing scenes, dramatically points up the underlying thematic. First, in a pink cloud, emerge the Queen, Ladies and conspirators- the huge dark sphere, crescent moon as backdrop. To a crack of thunder, they are dispersed , sinking into the abyss centre stage. The Enlightenment is represented by Sarastro and his followers, who enter from the back of a circular stage done out in gold, reflected through mirrors side stage. They, the priests(Volksoper Chorus) face us, the whole stage lit up like a radiant sun, with the cast lined up front of stage. Thus ‘Enlightenment’ reason prevails over dark, reactionary, mystical forces. PR. 22.06.2013 ö
Photos (c) Dimo Dimov/Volksoper Wien
Birgid Steinberger (Pamina), Jennifer O’loughlin (Queen of the Night); Karl Huml (Sarastro) ; Birgid Steinberger and Three Knaben from Vienna Boys Choir.
Unfortunately photos for the June 2013 performance cast were not available.

Roberto Alagna as Werther

Jules Massenet’s Werther is the quintessential 19th Century ‘Romantic’ figure. He’s the ‘outsider’, aroused by feelings of Nature; and in love with the idealised, unattainable woman. Like Tannhauser, in love with an impossible ideal, a love doomed to be disappointed. Werther visits his widowed friend Amman; has fallen in love with Charlotte his eldest daughter. But Charlotte is driven by a sense of duty to look after her young siblings; and is bethrothed to Albert, whom she swore to her dying mother to marry. It’s a ‘Victorian’ weepie- so gloomy it was (first) rejected by Paris Opera. And Werther first premiered in Vienna (in German) in 1892.
The melancholy of Massenet’s score; a veiled curtain with reflections of trees in a pool, opening to a woodland scene, a huge oak tree with a (tree-house) platform. The idyll is spoilt by noisy children, some in swimwear with beachballs, playing with modern toys; and tacky garden furniture out of a DIY. It’s modern, 1950s/60s: are they really singing Christmas songs in July? Bespectacled Amman, their father, in a double-breasted suit, is indeed ‘looking far ahead’. One of his friends, in denim and trainers, drops a beer bottle in a crate. (Another wears a leather biker jacket.) Yet Werther, in his first aria, enthuses poetically about Nature, Werther being based on Goethe’s short novel. Roberto Alagna, in a navy blue suit, open necked shirt- reflecting the ‘Victorians’ idealisation of children -sings ‘Dear children- so much better than I.’ (Not this lot!)
Musically, it doesn’t get much better than this Vienna State Opera production (directed by Andrei Serban.) Alagna, richly sonorous, the ideal lyrical tenor, with brilliance, refinement and empathy, wafts, Is he awake or dreaming: everything is like paradise. Charlotte (Vesselina Kasarova), on a tree balcony overhead, is listening unobserved. Albert (Tae-Joong Yang) appears in a red-indian headdress -a joke to play on the children . Sophie (Daniela Fally), the eldest, is sworn to secrecy.
In their first duet, Charlotte insists to the impassioned Werther, ‘you know nothing of me’; he, that he ‘knows her soul’. Werther, demanding to see her again- (his professions of love interrupted by Albert’s arrival)- pleads, ‘Be true to your promise, or I shall die!’
Their next scene, meeting (Act 2) is tremendous, the synergy between Alagna and Kasarova all the more remarkable as Kasarova had to replace Elena Garanca at very short notice. To a setting of autumn leaves, time passes quickly, Werther sings. ‘But have I made of this quiet charming girl one who has no regrets?’ Her rejoinder, ‘When a woman has the most proper man beside her’. He, Alagna impassioned, sings regretfully, ‘Another man is her husband: his entire life is reduced to nothing but a romantic prayer’. And poignantly, ‘If only it were him… she must love me.’ (Behind them a couple are passionately embracing on the overhead platform.)
Months after the wedding, and Albert appears to have forgiven his rival. But Charlotte and Werther left alone, Werther renews his protestations of love. In their duet, Kasarova wears a dove -grey tailored costume. ‘Albert loves me and I am his wife’, she persists. Albert loves you, and, emotionally, who will not love you, Charlotte sings of Werther. Is there no woman here who you could love? ‘Fate has separated us forever. Go away!’ But Werther persists relentlessly, it is not in his power to forget. His only wish is for her happiness. But she rejects him , and forbids him to see her again until Christmas time.
In Charlotte’s Act 3 aria, it’s Christmas day, and Charlotte is reading his letters, realising how much she loves him. In a room with a 1950s TV set, ‘G- Plan’ armchairs, Xmas tree in the corner, Kasarova is lying on a bed, rear of stage. She’s wearing a sleeveless black dress, her black tights showing. Werther! Who would have thought he’d occupy this place in her heart? (Since he’s gone, her thoughts are filled with him.) Kasarova is a superbly expressive soprano and powerful actress. Movingly, she reads his letters time and time again, with delight but sadness. Should destroy them, but can’t. (He writes from his small room. He thinks nostalgically of the children ‘when they were around us.’) She reads his letters, Kararova singing as if she knows them by heart: ‘If I don’t appear, don’t reproach me, weep for me.’ She’s joined by Sophie (Daniela Fally). Are you unhappy?- Sometimes, she’s troubled by a welling emotion. Sophie reminds her, sings of the joy of laughter. And Kasarova, with great feeling,’the tears that we weep, fallback into one’s soul.’
And typical of French 19th Century opera (from Gounod) appeals to God to resolve the conflict between duty and her passions. Her resistance is failing! She prays. At which point Werther returns. Alagna, tussled, in a light coat, enters, looks desolated. ‘Yes, he’d rather die than not see her again; meant to flee but he’s here.’ The house is still the same as when he left it?
And now, a high point of the opera, Werther remembers the verses of Ossian, which Alagna sings impassionedly, with noble phrasing, ‘Why awaken me, o breath of spring…’ Alagna sings with soaring emotion ‘and yet the storms are close’, orchestral accompaniment surging to Massenet’s sublime melody. The enormous applause from the audience was deserved- but seemed untimely, interrupting the rapt concentration of the scene.
Werther and Charlotte’s duet, high drama, hits an emotional peak.’Why try to hide it?’ She trembles.’Kiss me’, he begs, ‘for the first time.’ He reproaches her withdrawal.’You love me!’ Resisting, she pleads,’Save me Lord, have pity, have pity.’ He repeats, ‘I love you’, she ‘have pity’: then, in his arms, ‘forgive me!’ The audience, responding to the high emotional charge, try to applaud, as if at a revivalist meeting. He leaves her. She pursues him up the staircase, suggesting ,perhaps, a dream sequence.
Albert returns- letters scattered, reads Werther’s letter, (Tae-Joong Yong is a refined baritone, convincingly blonde -haired). “I’m going on a long journey- lend me your pistols.” Charlotte exclaims,’God, do not let me arrive too late!’
The orchestral entreacte before Act 4 was passionately played by Vienna State Opera orchestra under Bertrand de Billy. The stage curtain with a projected cloudy landscape was sensationally evocative.
Centre stage there’s a bed, lying a bloodied figure, (around which) white sheets covering representing snow. Werther lies with a gaping wound in his chest. ‘Pardonnez-moi’, sings Alagna feintly (to Charlotte). As he dies, he can tell her- Charlotte at his bedside- that he adores her. She sings of an ‘unbreakable chain that links them.’ She will at last return his kiss. In the distance- those children better heard than seen- sing the Christmas carol they rehearsed in summer.
Bertrand de Billy conducted Vienna State Opera orchestra (and chorus) with such passion to convince them they were a French orchestra. Their magnificent playing was powerful enough to convert me, a sceptic, to Massenet’s music. Alagna and Kasarova took all their curtain calls together. Theirs was a magical musical partnership, and especially tonight for Kasarova, (no disappointing last -minute replacement), who made the role her own. P.R. 30.04.2013
Photos: Roberto Alagna (Werther) ; Roberto Alagna (Werther) and Elina Garanca (Charlotte): as also for title photo
(c) Wiener Staatsoper/ Michael Pöhn